I read quite a bit of news every day, both online and offline, and I still feel pretty ill informed. However, after reading a very interesting column in a recent online issue of Quartz, I suddenly feel more informed than ever. And, by following the advice given by the column’s author, Ephrat Livni, I plan to read even less news, or to at least pay attention to things I generally ignore. Of course, I am not advocating your reading less “Kelly’s Place” columns. I certainly appreciate all the readers I can get.
Livni offers us a profile of Richard Watson, who enjoys being recognized as a futurist and a consultant to several global companies and educational institutions. As a student and teacher of history, I wonder if I can be recognized as a pastist? There, I’ve coined a term that might look really impressive on a business card. I’ll put in my order for a box of cards inscribed, “Jim Kelly, Pastist,” right away.
Livni tells us that “Watson doesn’t really follow the news in any conventional way. . . . [and is in fact] neutral about current events,” preferring to adopt a long view that attempts to place today’s events into a context that makes more sense than just spur-of-the-moment analysis.
Watson proposes that we follow ten simple rules to help us live an informed life without burdening ourselves with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). The first, and perhaps most practical piece of advice is to practice “selective ignorance.” Since we can’t hope to “think about everything,” we need to choose “quality over quantity.” It is a fact that our data-driven and information-all-the-time culture values quantity over quality, we need to reverse the equation and to “consume less and better data.” I have always following the principle of selective ignorance, and I am glad Watson has given it a name.
The second thing Watson urges us to do is to “randomly pick up books and magazines, and strike up conversations with strangers.” This sounds like a technique I often use to find new material for my weekly columns. And I have found some of what I consider to be my best by just randomly perusing some websites, books, magazines, and of course movies, TV shows, and music (especially from my Apple Music app).
Watson next suggests that we find “tall poppies,” those individuals who are also tall thinkers and full of curiosity. Spending time with these types of thinkers is more valuable than perusing countless sources. I tend to agree with us only up to a point, because it is so tempting to defer to the opinions of so-called “experts.” Interestingly enough, Watson includes as his fourth point the advice to take the “path untrodden” by not following “the herd,” and in his fifth point he gives us the very important advice that we evaluate all our sources very carefully, a task that is much more valuable now that we live in an era of fake news (not the first time we’ve done this, of course).
The sixth point is a little mysterious in its advice that if we just chill out “relevant information makes it way to us and that much of what we fuss over daily is just stuff that will soon be forgotten.” I’m not sure what this means, because relevant information has never made its way to me, or at least in ways that sound as simple as presented by Watson. I do agree, however, that we should “carve out designated reading time.” He gives us the example of Bill Gates who “takes time to reflect on the future of technology from deep in a forest.” Yes, it is very easy to carve out designated reading time from deep in a forest when you are a billionaire. We don’t need to find a forest in order to find some time to read and think. Closely related to this is the eighth point that tells us to “start listening. Be curious all the time.” This sounds like advice I give to my students that they be curious, creative, and connected.
Watson’s last two words of wisdom are closely related in that we should stop spending so much time on social media. We should instead “become cynical about trends. Watch for counter-trends. Visit the fridge.” If we can manage to do this we should “go dark” by turning off all our channels of communication and information gathering for at least “once a week and every evening.” We should seriously “dare to own no cellphone.” This might be going a little too far, because our smartphones are great sources of information, and it’s up to us to decide how much of this information we need. Perhaps we should opt for something I call “focused attention.”
And what’s the take-away from all this advice? According to Lenvi, we should “be contrarian [and] get smart by not worrying about where the crowd is going.” Why do we need all the foregoing points if we internalize this simple piece of advice? Simpler is often better.
My advice resembles some of the ideas above but is much briefer. I think we should start our learning process by being curious, and distrustful of any bits of information we initially find. We should, in short, treat any news we come upon as an opportunity to think more deeply and to come up with perspectives we can use to better understand the world around us.
See you next week with my own springboard to provoking you to think–at least that’s hopefully what I hope my newest column will become.